Why is BC NDP government limiting the Gwa’sala-‘nakwaxda’xw historical information on child welfare?

Jun 1, 2022 | 42-3, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Question Period, Video | 0 comments

The Gwa’sala-‘nakwaxda’xw Nation are in the process of taking back jurisdiction of child welfare as per federal legislation.

They have been attempting to get access to historical information from the provincial Crown governments Ministry of Children and Family Development but have been consistently blocked by the BC NDP government.

The Nation has been notified that the Deputy-Director of Child Welfare decided that the information requested was not going to be disclosed.

Despite the commitments of MCFD Minister Mitzi Dean and her Deputy Minister Alison Bond, the provincial government lawyers in the Attorney General David Eby’s Ministry are using narrow interpretations of the law to withhold vital information that the Nation needs to facilitate the development of their programs, and to ensure they are able to meet their cultural laws.

The Premier states his government has made transformational change on reconciliation and yet these terrible situations persist. He says he’s willing to sit with me to discuss this issue further, he need not meet with me, he needs to meet with the leadership of the Gwa’sala-‘nakwaxda’xw Nation. He should not delay.

[Transcript]

A. Olsen:

Over the last few weeks, this B.C. NDP government has failed to convince British Columbians that the museum project is the noble venture that they claim it to be. We know that those who control the information control the storytelling and control the narratives. Residential and day schools and museums were all tools used by Crown governments to dominate and to subordinate Indigenous people. The goal expressed by the architects of the Indian Act a century ago was to assimilate Indigenous people and annihilate our cultures.

Fast forward to today. All of the MLAs in this chamber received a desperate letter from the Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw council. They’re moving forward under the federal legislation to take back control and jurisdiction over their children and families, based on their own cultural laws.

[2:35 p.m.]
They have outlined horrific abuses at the hands of the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Our relatives have asked for access to their files. They have stated clearly that these are their files about their children and families.

Their cultural laws require them to carefully research their history of each member, to do namings and other cultural ceremonies. Now the ministry has important parts of these histories that they will not share with them. They also need the files to prepare their costing models and develop their programs and services in a culturally-based way and to address the past gaps and problems.

How can anyone build better programs without access to past files and data? My question is to the Premier. He positions himself as a warrior of reconciliation, so why is he allowing his government to continue with this data colonialism?

Hon. M. Dean:

I do want to acknowledge that for far too long the system of government in British Columbia has been overinvolved in the lives of Indigenous children and youth and families. Indigenous children and youth have been overrepresented in the child welfare system.

Our government is committed to reconciliation, and in my ministry we are absolutely committed to changing that. We know the harm that that has caused for Indigenous children, youth and families for generations. It’s very important that we change the whole of the system. We are absolutely committed to working with nations to exercise their inherent jurisdiction.

I’ve recently been visiting nations who are at different stages in exercising their inherent jurisdiction. We were at coordination tables with them and with the government of Canada, and we are working with them and following their path and following their timelines as well. We’re doing the same with Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw as well. I actually had very senior staff in the community all day on Monday of this week, and we’re committed to a new way of working together. We have the agreement of the community to continue working together to support them in how they want to exercise their inherent jurisdiction. There’s a lot more work to do and we are absolutely committed to doing it, and doing it in partnership.

Mr. Speaker:

Member for Saanich North and the Islands, supplemental.

A. Olsen:

Honestly, that response is terrible. The reality of it is is that this nation has been trying to get access to files, historical files, about the mistreatment of their members from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and they have been blocked by this government. The exchange of letters between the nation and this NDP B.C. government are painful to read. The story of terrible abuses at the hands of that ministry are difficult to comprehend.

The nation was told that: “The deputy director of child welfare has communicated his decision to not disclose complete records.” That’s what the nation has been told. The Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw responded saying that the provincial Crown continues to apply a specifically narrow interpretation of the law that goes against the commitment from the Minister of Children and Family Development.

On October 20th, 2021, the minister made a commitment. The minister’s deputy minister, Allison Bond, also made a commitment, directly contravening their own commitments to this nation. The MCFD and this B.C. NDP government have a culture of withholding. Read the news today. See another story of where MCFD is withholding money from an Indigenous family looking after their grandchildren. They withhold children until they determine whether the Indigenous mother is capable based on their own standards.

The Premier’s legacy of this museum is actually more of the same. They claim to be different, but this is more of the same behaviour from this government. This is not a legal or privacy issue that I’m talking about today. The current legislation allows provincial directors to provide information to First Nations. This can’t be a privacy issue, because this is about returning information about First Nations back to First Nations.

My question is again to the Premier, and I hope that he will stand up and respond. Is he going to just stand by and allow his government to continue to withhold vital information from Indigenous nations whose are rightfully taking back jurisdiction over their child welfare?

[2:40 p.m.]

Hon. J. Horgan:

I thank the member for his passion about this issue. He will know that this government has been transformative when it comes to working with Indigenous peoples. Over the past five years, we have brought forward landmark legislation, supported by all members of this House, with respect to the declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples. We have been working through the Ministry of Children and Family Development to right the historic wrongs that he talks about, and if there are issues, today, that require more in-depth discussion, I am quite prepared to have that with the member.

But the challenges that Indigenous peoples face in this province are not something that happened yesterday. It’s been going on since the expansion of Europe and colonization came to this great province that we call home and we share with Indigenous peoples — 204 Indigenous distinct nations, as the member for Langara said in his statement today.

I appreciate the passion of the member. I’m happy to sit down with him and look into the details that he’s raised in the House today. But let’s leave the public with a sense that they can have comfort that all of the people in this House — 87 members — are committed to addressing the wrongs of the past, and we do that by taking steps forward. Will we stumble? Will we make mistakes? Yes, we will. But we should be doing it together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration. If we can’t cooperate and collaborate here, it’s little wonder that Indigenous peoples don’t support us as we go into their communities.

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